At the start of his 43rd season, Everett Merchants head coach Harold Pyatte is no less excited about his team’s chances heading into the coming Pacific International League baseball season.
“I am very optimistic,” said the 72-year-old Pyatte. “We’re looking to have a good, competitive team.”
The Merchants, a semipro team with a combination of college and post-college players — “We’re about 60 percent college players,” Pyatte said — will embark on a 40-game regular-season schedule that he hopes will lead the ballclub back to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., later in the summer.
Everett reached the NBC World Series a year ago, but opened the tournament with two one-run defeats and was eliminated.
The Merchants were 24-12 in 2014 and 19-7 in the PIL, finishing a half-game behind the Seattle Studs in the league’s final standings. Seattle went on to finish second at the NBC World Series, one year after winning the national title.
“(The Studs) have had a good run, I’ll tell you that,” Pyatte said. “But I think we’re going to challenge them this year for the PIL title.”
Everett, which opened its season on Thursday night, returns 11 players from last season’s team, including center fielder and leading hitter John Doering, who batted. .380 a year ago, and first baseman-pitcher Jake Levin, who hit .358 with a league-best 33 RBI.
Other top returners are third baseman Josh Potter, .356, 20 RBI; outfielder Jaykob Sells, .344, 20 RBI, and pitcher Cody Culp, who was 3-2 with a 3.14 ERA.
Among the new players, Pyatte expects pitcher Brian Boyle to have a big role.
One of the big challenges Pyatte will face this season is dividing the playing time among the 29 players on the team’s roster. “I’ve been going over that with my coaches for the last three days,” he said. “Where are we going to find innings for all the pitchers? And we’re doubled up at every position in the infield.”
The Merchants, who have a rain makeup game at Everett Memorial Stadium at 8 p.m. Friday night against the Northwest Honkers, are planning an eight-game road trip to Alaska later this month. Everett will also compete at tournaments in Grand Forks, N.D., and Kamloops, B.C.